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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Subtropical Alice Springs, NT, Australia, Friday, 17 June 2011 3:00am

More driving this morning. I've been investigating the waving behavior of drivers on the Stuart Highway. "Waving" here usually consists of the driver opening one hand on the steering wheel (palm still touching the wheel in most cases). There are variations: just extending the index finger with the rest of the hand remaining on the wheel is fairly common, two fingers like in the peace sign is less common. Occasionally a driver will give a full wave with the hand off of the wheel, but this is rare. Since the vehicles are moving at 200km/h relative to each other or faster, there's little time to get fancy.

At first it seemed like camper van and caravan (a mobile home towed by another vehicle, rather than integrated) drivers were the most common wavers, and that truckers and motorcyclists would never wave. My theories were that truck cabs were too high to see the oncoming driver, and that motorcyclists here are either surly or wrong-handed.

In the US, motorcyclists wave (generally only to other motorcyclists, and sometimes only to motorcyclists of the same class (cruisers, sportbikers, dualsports) or affiliation) using their left hand, which is usually idle on the highway because it's used for the clutch. If you drive on the right, this is the hand facing oncoming traffic, but here it is the hand away from the oncoming traffic and therefore much less useful for signaling. So perhaps motorcyclists are just not in the habit of waving at all here.

However, I think that it's actually that camper van drivers are the most likely to initiate a wave, but that all types of drivers will return a wave with about the same frequency. In the course of an hour of testing (10:33-11:33 between Barrow Creek and the Tropic of Capricorn in which I waved at every oncoming vehicle, 21 of 89 vehicles returned waves, including vehicles of all types. Of those 21, 3 waved either simultaneously with me or even initiated the wave. All three were camper vans or caravans.

Motorcyclists do wave here, and, as expected, use the left hand, even though it is not towards the traffic. Truckers sometimes initiate waves, but I have only seen this from drivers of smaller trucks. Full sized semis and particularly "Road Trains" (trucks towing more than one trailer, often double stacked with shipping containers) often have windshields so darkly tinted that it is not possible to see the driver, so we can only speculate on their waving behavior. We can also speculate that it might be wise for me to bring company for future extended road trips, or at least one of those finger-clicker counter things with multiple counters.

I left the tropics just before noon, after a short stop at the Tropic of Capricorn rest area, where there is a marker. I've now visited the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, the Navel of the World at Delphi, the border between Europe and Asia in Atyrau, and now the Tropic of Capricorn. Oddly, I can't remember if I've visited an Equator marker. I wonder if there are markers for the Tropic of Cancer and the International Date Line.

I had lunch at the Alice Springs Desert Park, a smallish, but well-designed zoo. There were lots of aviaries devoted to different biomes, different families of birds (parrots, for example), different diets (seeds, meat, fruit, and so on), and even one focused on cooperation. There was also a neat nocturnal house. There was a wallaby relative that was hopping all over its enclosure, occasionally trying to jump over the glass into the next one and coming up to investigate the people. I think the bilbies were probably the cutest animals there. There were some good talks on some of the nocturnal creatures, on the red kangaroos, and one featuring free-flying birds. The last was particularly impressive because the birds of prey swoop right over the crowd and do aerobatics to catch tossed food and eat it in midair.

Comments

g-na (Anonymously) Friday, 17 June 2011 4:38pm

There is an International Date Line marker on the island of Taveuni, Fiji. Although I've been to the island, I never made it down to the marker. Fiji is a wonderful place to visit, should you ever get the desire to head there.

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